Happy By The Sea
Homes: By Ann Jarmusch Photography by Will Gullette
Happy By The Sea
Elegance blends with beachy in an Arts and Crafts home that’s got relaxed, resort style…
A delightful Del Mar beachfront house on a tight lot harbors a deep marine secret, a secret filled not with sodden darkness but with luminosity and life. Designers of this Arts and Crafts-style beauty dredged sand, stones and seashells to create a full basement — a technical wonder below sea level. This subterranean level is watertight and earthquake safe, yet kissed by natural light and warmth from above.
The owners of this home, who prefer to remain anonymous, roughly doubled their living space by building the 1,600-square-foot basement. It’s actually a three-story home but, by the city’s book, only the two above-ground floors count as official square footage.
By forming 128 concrete pylons deep in the sand (half of them embedded with steel I-beams) in a squarish perimeter and building thick, reinforced concrete retaining walls, contractor Jim Sweig and architect Jim Sneed provided an unseen haven. The basement logically houses a home theater, three bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths and a central den. Daylight is unwelcome in the theater, while natural light streams down the staircase to the den. More important, each bedroom is illuminated by a generous light well.
“The integration of the light wells absolutely makes these rooms as livable as those on the upper floors. They bring in natural light, air and sound,” says Sweig.
Ten-foot ceilings and a palette of mid-tone or lighter colors — aqua blues, butter yellow, cream, white, a touch of citron green — for the lower level are two more keys to making a basement not feel like a basement, the home’s designers say.
The first floor, which is mostly given over to a great room and adjoining compact, radiant-white kitchen, is flooded with natural light and opens to the beach on the west and south sides. Ensuring the broadest possible ocean views, motorized window shades recede into ceiling pockets. Better yet, wide sliding doors disappear into the walls to merge the beach house with the beach.
Just outside, fire and water align in a linear, earth-bound fire pit and a spa close enough to the ocean to catch salt spray. A jaunty white trellis that matches the house’s Craftsman details shades a barbecue area.
The master suite, complete with exercise room and coffee bar, fills the second floor. In this bedroom, French doors swing open to admit ocean breezes and a wraparound balcony brings the owners even closer to the sea.
The interiors primarily reflect a blend of California and Cape Cod domestic attributes and details, says Christine Fink, the interior designer who collaborated with Sneed and Sweig. Her considerable tool kit includes the two-story banister design she adapted from a Balboa Island house; a unique symphony of wood, calacatta marble, onyx and tile in the master bath and yards of limestone coping ordered from the Stone City, Iowa, quarry near her hometown.
“Some people try to go too formal, but this house is more relaxed,” Fink says. “The client really wanted to use natural materials that are rich and elegant, but I toned them down for the beach-cottage environment.”
Even so, rich and elegant materials abound, from the slate roof and copper gutters to walnut parquet flooring and hand-carved teak panels. The two most luxurious areas — the mahogany-lined home theater in the British West Indies style and the artfully subtle master bath — transcend the cottage mode in their coveted, durable materials and meticulous detailing. The most functional zone is out of sight: a 30-inch space below the basement floor, where plumbing and mechanical systems and the like are concealed.
The owner, Fink and Sneed met several times on site to select the moody, charcoal-gray paint color for the cedar siding, which says “cottage,” as does the front door, marked by a single ledger-stone pier. But cross its threshold and you’ll discover a world of fine craftsmanship and architecture that readily reveals its deepest secret.